Your guide to Proposition 6: Ending forced prison labor

hand in shackle holding a hammer
(Los Angeles Times)

Proposition 6 asks California voters to amend the state Constitution to ban involuntary servitude, which would end forced labor in state prisons.

What will the measure do?

Proposition 6 would end mandatory work requirements for state prisoners, instead making jobs voluntary for incarcerated people. It would also protect prisoners from being disciplined for refusing a work assignment.

Who are the supporters?

Proposition 6 was placed on the ballot by California state lawmakers, who supported it with a bipartisan vote. The measure is a Legislative Black Caucus priority bill. Additional supporters include numerous liberal groups that advocate for reforming the criminal justice system.

Who are the opponents?

There are no official opponents.

Some Republican lawmakers have expressed worry that the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation would have to pay prisoners minimum wage, which would cost the state over a billion dollars annually. Proposition 6 doesn’t mandate wages, and a related new law explicitly says that the state would not be required to pay prisoners minimum wage and that the secretary of the Corrections Department would set prison wages.

Why is this on the ballot?

California’s Constitution mirrors the 13th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, which allows for involuntary servitude as punishment for crime. A growing list of states have passed similar initiatives that removed involuntary servitude as punishment for crimes from their state constitutions. Those states include Vermont, Oregon, Tennessee, Alabama, Nebraska, Utah, and Colorado.

Criminal justice reform advocates have been pushing for a change to the language in the Constitution for years, saying it allows the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation to require able-bodied inmates to work for as little as 35 cents an hour.

The first push to remove that exception from the state Constitution stalled in 2022 because lawmakers feared it would cost billions. After the effort was discarded, Assemblymember Lori D. Wilson (D-Suisun City), chair of the Legislative Black Caucus, brought back the measure last year as one of 14 bills to advance reparations for the descendants of enslaved African Americans.

This measure would make prison work optional by instituting a voluntary work program.

Past coverage

Read more: California lawmakers add measure to end forced prison labor to the November ballot

Read more: California could end forced prison labor. Will lawmakers send this measure to the ballot?

Read more: California lawmakers revive effort to ban involuntary servitude as punishment for crimes

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This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.